A single bout of exercise can improve how you feel, the quality of your thinking and your ability to focus within minutes. But which type of exercise is best for improving your emotional state, getting your thinking cap on, or focusing on what matters most?

Which exercise type improves your ability to think?


Initial research suggests low to moderate intensity exercise activates neuronal pathways in your brain which are responsible for attention and cognition. This means low intensity exercise will improve your ability to focus and the quality of your thinking. Interestingly, the quality of our thinking reduces with high intensity exercise. Researchers believe this may be caused by less oxygen getting to our brain when we are exercising intensely.

Which type of exercise improves your mood?

Whilst all types of exercise improve your mood over the medium to long-term, just one bout of high intensity exercise will leave your feeling more positive and enhance your ability to process emotions.

Limitations of this study

This study is an insightful first step into understanding how different types of exercise affect our mood, ability to think, and to focus. Because this is a small study with 25 participants and all the participants were healthy, physically active and male; further studies observing larger groups and different variables such as gender and fitness will provide further information in relation to this initial finding.

It does confirm the importance of bringing different types of exercise into your training programme and the potential for choosing when to do which parts of your training plan based on what you need to get done after the gym or your run, or based on how you are feeling emotionally. I look forward to the time when there is a significant body of research in this emerging field as this will allow us to prescribe exercise knowing how it will impact our mental and emotional health.


Schmitt, A., et al., (2019). Modulation of Distinct Intrinsic Resting State Brain Networks by Acute Exercise Bouts of Differing Intensity. Available from: https://content.iospress.com/articles/brain-plasticity/bpl190081